Tomlinson calls on officials to drop expensive litigation

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the lawsuits filed against the city by four elected officials have already cost taxpayers more than $100,000 and that bill could get much higher if the litigation goes to court.

In hope of avoiding that, she called on the officials – Sheriff John Darr, Marshal Greg Countryman, Clerk of Municipal Court Vivian Creighton Bishop and Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce – to drop the “frivolous” lawsuits before any more taxpayer money is spent.

“This is crazy business and the plaintiff elected officials should drop these frivolous lawsuits immediately before the taxpayers incur another dime,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson said the allegations that she and her administration did not submit the elected officials’ proposed budgets are invalid because none of the four submitted a proposed budget to her or her administration. Instead, they submitted their own proposed budgets directly to Columbus Council.

Tomlinson also released budget numbers and said the amount of money involved in the budget disagreements doesn’t warrant costly litigation at taxpayer expense.

In the case of the Municipal Court Clerk, going from Fiscal 2014 ($849,666) to Fiscal 2015 ($852,119) that budget rose by about $2,500.

In the Superior Court Clerk and Marshal’s cases, both budgets were cut by $10,000 or more, but that represented money that both officials had been advanced at the end of the 2014 fiscal year, with the understanding that it would be taken out of 2015, Tomlinson said.

In the sheriff’s case, Darr says his budget request was for $26.8 million, which he is asking the court to restore. Instead, the city budgeted about $24.8 million, which he claims is not sufficient for him to carry out the duties of his office.

However, Tomlinson said that Darr’s actual 2015 budget is about $27.6 million, when Other Local Option Sales Tax funds are taken into account. That’s about $800,000 more than he is asking for in his claim.

“The citizens need to understand the troubling circumstances of the alleged budget injuries asserted by the elected officials suing them,” Tomlinson said. “The citizen taxpayers are footing the bill for this and they deserve transparency.”

Macon attorney Kerry Howell, who is on Darr’s legal team, stated flatly that they were not considering dropping the suit, that it is anything but frivolous and that he disputes Tomlinson’s version of the budget numbers.

“We are not dropping the case,” Howell said. “We have a valid lawsuit. I’ve done a number of these cases over the years, as has co-counsel, and the sheriff is on good ground here on this budget fight. They didn’t give him enough money.”

Concerning the sheriff apparently asking for $800,000 less than was appropriated, Howell said Tomlinson is comparing apples to oranges. The $27.6 million total appropriation includes about $2.6 million in OLOST funds, which are not challenged in the lawsuit, Howell said. Darr’s demand for $26.8 million concerns only General Fund appropriations.

In a related matter, attorney Charles Miller, representing Countryman and Bishop, said his clients had no choice but to use their city credit cards to hire representation because the city refused their request for funding. He said demanding that they pay the money back or have it taken from their paychecks, and also suspending their credit card privileges, are meant to threaten and demean his clients.

“It is unfortunate that at a time when crime is running rampant, the courts and the law enforcement officials are overwhelmed, and the citizens of Columbus worry daily about their safety the mayor has decided the best use of her time is to play political games with these vital components of the city’s public safety system,” Miller said in a release.

Press Release - Countryman and Bishop 11.14